OK, so I am a bit confused and bewildered. The last week or so of the pandemic seems to have brought something of the “end of the tunnel in sight.” There is a sense that maybe we are reaching the peak, that the tide is about to be turned. Indeed, from the White House to governor’s mansions around the country there is more and more talk about “what’s next,” and how do we “reopen the economy.” Good news!
But…then we hear the details…no school anymore this year (so much for my daughter’s senior year!) And what about sports…no fans in the stands? Really? Pastor Jean and I have tickets to the first football game of the season at the University of Nebraska in September…maybe…and that’s a bucket list item for her. And what if…what if they allow the resumption of groups up to 25…how can we worship like we have in the past? I can’t even have a confirmation class at that size. Until there is a vaccine – and that could be a year from now – just what are we going to do? And how long is this going to last?
Now, to be clear – social distancing and “safer at home” are both making a difference. They need to continue. Sorry, I’m just not with those who think that if you can’t see it, it’s not there, so open it all up and get back to life. And while it is true that in some ways we do put a price on life, this isn’t the time to decide that economics is more important than health, especially when it may be someone else’s health we are talking about. (By the way – full disclosure – I have a degree in Economics.)
But all that does get to be a heavy load. For me, for you, for our society. And that really gets me down. Even this week. Even in the shadow of the empty tomb of Jesus!
If you watched the Easter worship video (it’s still there – go to oursaviorswestsalem.org/videos), you heard me proclaim that this Easter is much more authentic, much more real. The first Easter was also stark and barren, seemingly lifeless. Yet, I also reminded you that as Mary approached that tomb (and in some ways, we walk with her) God was about to speak a new word, a word of hope that would come, not from an empty tomb, but in her encounter with the risen Jesus. In her relationship with Jesus she would be renewed and restored, even in the midst of the barrenness.
And so are we. We too hear the word, encounter Jesus, and enter into a renewing relationship with the risen Christ.
But that was days ago. And remember? It’s getting long and old! So, already, I’m thinking I need something more.
More than Jesus? Well, maybe not more than Jesus. Maybe a new perspective on just what Jesus is up to.
And I’ve got it. I’ve got that new perspective. Because God has spoken again. Twice, actually.
First, God spoke through Dave and Angie Hemker. Hemker’s live across the street from church. Angie is always rather creative and insightful (sorry to embarrass you like that, but you are!)
Last week (I think – maybe last month, who knows, these days all seem to run together), Angie and Dave put out some decorations in their front yard. Christmas decorations! Really, this is God speaking…
Then, earlier this week, on top of all the crummy stuff in our world, it snowed. Not tons (like up north), but enough to remind us that spring hasn’t quite sprung yet. That morning Pastor Jean arrived at the office after I did. “I thought it was Easter, not Christmas!”
God spoke again, this time through my wife (that is really hard to admit!!!)
So it’s Christmas…and Easter…all rolled into one. And that, for me, is a sign of hope!
How so? The victory of Easter, the victory of God through Jesus Christ, to defeat the powers of sin, death, and evil, is what we need. We desperately need that word of hope in a troubled time. We need to know that God is still holding us and all of creation in his embrace, and that God’s promises in Jesus remain secure. We need to know that there is nothing in all of life or death that can keep us from God’s love in Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
And then we need to proclaim that word to a hurting, fearful, anxious world. We’ve got good news to share!
But we also have something else. We have Jesus! And that’s where Christmas comes in. Christmas is about God coming in to our world. Not for a quick visit, or a brief layover. Not just in a moment of joy and wonder, for an easy getaway. God is here, here to stay. In the person of Jesus, God comes to walk the long and difficult road with us. God comes to join with us in times that are challenging, anxious, and fearful. God comes to get down in the dirt and mud with us, to share that which overwhelms us. God comes to be with us for the long haul!
That is what I need to hear as this week comes to its close. I need to know that as these days drag on, and slowly (I hope and pray) life begins to return to a more stable norm, that I’m not in this by myself. The God of life and hope, who comes to us in the child of Bethlehem and the risen Christ, is still here, and quite frankly, isn’t going anywhere. The days…weeks…months ahead will be draining and wearying, but God isn’t a “fair-weather God.” God is – and remains – with me, to share with me, to lift me up, to renew and restore me, and in the end, no matter what the end looks like, to continue to give me new life – even in the face of COVID-19, and all that it brings to our world.
So there’s the word – Christmas in the midst of Easter. Not exactly “liturgically” sound, but maybe these days, that’s the word we need – the God who remains in our midst, bringing life and new life in the risen Jesus!